Maputo — The Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, on Saturday, in the second and final reading of a bill moved by the former rebel movement Renamo, passed amendments to the electoral legislation that will create much larger, and deeply politicized electoral bodies.
The only stumbling block in the second reading was the composition of the provincial, district and city elections commissions. Currently these bodies all have eleven members - six from political parties (three appointed by the ruling Frelimo Party, two by Renamo, and one by the Mozambique Democratic Movement, MDM), and five from civil society organizations.
Renamo wanted to reduce all of these commissions to nine members by removing two of the civil society representatives. Frelimo and the MDM wanted to stick with eleven.
In the morning, matters seemed to be at an impasse inside the Assembly's Commission on Public Administration, which was drawing up the final version of the bill. But when the plenary Assembly session finally resumed, at 16.00, commission chairman Alfredo Gamito announced that consensus had been reached, not on reducing the size of the election commissions but on increasing it.
Each provincial, district and city elections commission will now have 15 members - three from Frelimo, two from Renamo, one from the MDM and nine from civil society.
Renamo did not explain this sudden change, and when AIM asked Gamito he said he did not know why Renamo had changed its mind.
But the about turn is perhaps explained by the way the civil society representatives are chosen. Proposals for members of the provincial commissions are made by legally recognised civil society organisations to the National Elections Commission (CNE), and proposals for the district or city commissions are made to the provincial commissions.
When the commissions were set up last year, Renamo was boycotting everything to do with elections and did not occupy the seats to which it was entitled on any of the commissions. The Frelimo representatives were therefore determinant in choosing from the civil society applicants for seats on the provincial, district and city commissions. This led to accusations that the supposedly civil society representatives were Frelimo in disguise.
But Renamo has now ended its boycott and will take up its seats. No doubt it believes that it will have a major say in determining who the extra four civil society representatives on each of the commissions will be.
This bill, and a separate, less controversial Renamo bill on voter registration were passed unanimously and by acclamation. Deputies from all three parliamentary groups were on their feet and applauding, despite Frelimo's warnings on Friday that the Renamo amendments are a serious setback to the attempts to create smaller, more professional and less politicized election bodies.
Both Gamito and the spokesperson for the Frelimo parliamentary group, Edmundo Galiza-Matos Junior saw passing the amendments as a necessary step towards ending the Renamo military operations in the central province of Sofala.
But the spokesperson for the Renamo parliamentary group, Arnaldo Chalaua, gave no guarantee that the attacks would stop. Pressed by reporters, he said that the military issues “are being discussed elsewhere”.
The electoral laws and the military tension “are two different things”, he claimed.
Although all bills passed by the Assembly are supposed to be accompanied by a statement of their impact on the state budget, there is still no such statement for the Renamo amendments. Renamo says it has received assurances from the government that the Finance Ministry will provide this statement.